As is typical on the anniversary of its release, discussions have flared up about Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. In honor of its 27th (!) anniversary, I wanted to share some musings I wrote out on an older blog. I've also shared this story on Commentary Trek Stars on the Trek.FM network, and on my flagship podcast with my pal Craig, Words With Nerds. And now I share it with my family at The Nerd Party.
Originally, it was born tangentially during someone’s endless rants on a discussion in the comments for another post wherein someone asked how I could “possibly like Star Trek V,” the universally-reviled and traditionally most-trashed Star Trek film of all time.
Of course, this was written before the JJ reboots, which have garnered their own vitriolic trashing. I fixed a couple of typos, and added to a note, but other than that, this is the original piece.
LET ME TELL YOU WHY I LOVE STAR TREK V
First and foremost, let’s get something straight. I am in no way proposing that Star Trek V is a perfect film. My love of it is deeply rooted in some emotional things that I’ll outline in a moment.
However, I’ll point out the film isn’t nearly as bad as it’s been made out to be. Sure, there are problems (special effects, an ending that fell apart thanks to budget constraints and those self-same SPFX problems, comedy delivered like an old Vaudeville act), but this movie is made with an obvious amount of love. I mean, it’s like watching the old blaxploitation movies like Shaft or Super Fly or Black Belt Jones. They lacked on almost every technical front, but were made with so much fun and joy that you cannot help but love them. If you don’t, there’s something seriously wrong with you.
So yeah, I just put Star Trek V in the same league as Blacula. That’s a big compliment coming from me.
If you haven’t seen Star Trek V, I’m not going to belabor you with a long plot analysis. Here it is in a nutshell: Captain Kirk and crew are kidnapped and taken to the center of the galaxy on a quest for God.
Yeah, I know.
THIS IS WHY I LOVE IT
The best part of it is, the guy who kidnaps them is Spock’s long-lost half-brother. It’s a twist, and had it been executed just a little bit better, it would have carried a very nice emotional impact. As it is, it’s kind of neat. The one thing you have to give Laurence Luckinbill is that he sells the heck out of the role. Obviously, he understood the long tradition he was joining – complete with the legions of dateless über-fans before they migrated into my own fan base and started suck all the fun out of that – and wanted to give everyone a character whom they would remember. In a lot of ways, I feel bad for the guy; he really thought that this was going to be a net positive for him, and I can only imagine the venom he’s had to endure from the basement-dwellers over time. I don’t think I’ve ever heard about him attending a convention and I can understand why.
The fact of the matter is, I too hated Star Trek V for a while. I remember seeing it when I was 13, it was the first Star Trek movie I ever saw in the movie theatre. (2016 note: I also saw The Undiscovered Country and all the TNG movies, and had the good fortune to see The Wrath of Khan in 35 mm during college.) To me, it was exciting and fun. But then, over time, I started to become nerdier and more judgmental.
See, there’s this odd sort of groupthink that occurs in the nerdiverse, similar to what happens in any social sub-group, be they cheerleaders, jocks, skater punks or whatever else the kids are calling themselves. But in the nerd sub-category (which is the parent category of geeks, dorks, et al.), there’s a pervasive negativity that’s darned infectious. Even the things which are “loved” are loved with this negative forcefulness, a demanding codependence that demands a perfection that anyone short of our Lord in Heaven would have trouble achieving.
This mind–set deemed Star Trek V not just as an unsatisfying film but perhaps the worst film of all time. And over time, if enough people say something and feel compelled to agree with it, it becomes truth. This is true across the board.
Again, I digress.
SPOCK, SYBOCK, AND THE ETERNAL QUEST
Flash forward to the year 2001. My mother had been dead for a year and I was still coping with that; my girlfriend of 3 years broke up with me and let me know by moving all her stuff out of the apartment while I was at work (which, in retrospect, was a good thing, but at the time was a definite ego blow) and then refusing to see me; I had crushing credit card debt; I was stuck with a lease to a 2-bedroom apartment I couldn’t afford on my own; The Twin Towers had fallen in a vicious attack from a bunch of bloody savages. And then, as if to underline what a colossal f***-up I felt like, my brother got married and showed how well he had his act together. I was truly adrift and in desperate need of something to bolster my faith. It was a time of deep questions.
I developed a severe case of insomnia.
I was sort of like “Jack” in Fight Club. I’d doze off and wake up unexpectedly. I watched late–night television until I would pass out from exhaustion. I’d drink. I developed a nervous tic. But I couldn’t sleep.
So one night, I tried putting on a movie. I put on a Star Wars film, but that was a bad idea. I was too interested. Paying attention to something just fed the need to stay awake.
So I grabbed my Star Trek boxed set (one of the 3,876 versions that they’ve put out in the last 20 years). Even as tired as I was, The Motion Picture felt like punishment, so that lost out.
I liked II too much, VI was also solid, III was a failure at soothing me, and IV…well, that’s too much of a comedy to put you to sleep.
STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER
So naturally, I chose Star Trek V.
I laid down and put the videotape (yes, tape) into the combo TV/VCR I had set up next to the bed. Then I started Shatner’s feature film directing debut.
By the time they got to the God planet, a miracle happened. I fell asleep. Blessed sleep. Now, I woke up again and had to start the process over. It then became a nightly ritual. I watched Star Trek V every night for a month to fall asleep. Eventually, it got to the point where the Paramount logo would come up and I’d nod off before the first shot officially started.
And I came to know the movie by heart. You know how you can learn other languages with those sleep tapes? That’s what happened here. I still know the movie by heart.
And I love it for what it is, which is a fun excursion into a deep philosophical question, a director in over his head but making a film with such unbridled enthusiasm that you can see that everyone is having fun, and some moments of legitimate humor that sneak through. There are even some character moments among Kirk, Spock and McCoy that stand as some of the best put down on film.
There is also a theme that stands the test of time. Namely, our over-reliance on self-help gurus that convince us that not only can they relieve us of our pain but we need to focus only on happiness without sacrifice. Well, I’m with Kirk: “Damn it, Bones, you’re a doctor. You know that pain and guilt can’t be taken away with a wave of a magic wand. They’re the things we carry with us, the things that make us who we are. If we lose them, we lose ourselves. I don’t want my pain taken away! I need my pain!”
Holy Cow, he’s practically the proto-Tyler Durden!
Besides, I think that’s a lesson everyone should keep in mind. It was deeply relevant to me then, and it’s deeply relevant now.
Also, life is not a dream. That’s a big one.